It’s been a month since I last left Istanbul and I was starting to feel a little cabin fever. Thankfully, the first non-Turkey trip I booked (in February) was scheduled for this weekend, and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for a while: a visit to my roommate in Madrid.
With just a population of ~6.5 million people, Madrid is a very tiny city compared to Istanbul, but it would have been a great city to spend a semester in. It’s vibrant, full of culture, and it has a fully developed transportation system. SU Abroad has somewhere between 100-200 students in Madrid each semester, and I saw why it is such a popular destination.
This was the first time I flew an international carrier other than Turkish or AtlasGlobal. Iberia actually offered the least expensive flight at good times, and I took it. Considered a mid-range haul, it was fully catered and, seeing that Madrid is Iberia’s hub, we get to land at a fancy new terminal- the nicest airport terminal I have ever seen, even if it contained miles upon miles of walkways and escalators.
First shocking thing: how much the city’s residents rely on the metro. I was told that the “tourist pass” for 19 euro was the best way to go- meanwhile thinking to myself that it might be better to purchase four or five single ride tickets- and what do you know, it was the right call. Madrid residents are like groundhogs- popping below ground frequently and appearing somewhere else a few minutes later. Metro lines are intertwined and reach just about anywhere in the city, and stops are close together. Need to get somewhere? The closest metro station is a few feet to the left and will bring you across the street from your destination in 10 minutes or less.
Second shocker: the two most famous attractions in the city are art museums. I’m not an art lover by any means (except ocean/Cape Cod scenes) but these were worth checking out. The Prado houses the city’s renaissance/more realistic collection, while the Reina Sofía is the home of everything modern art. I recognized many of the paintings in the former, with the Judgement of Paris being the highlight for me. For the latter, I found that I really like Salvador Dalí’s work (shame its value is “priceless” and the paintings were “definitely not for sale”).
The other places we visited during the two days were everywhere. Old Town Square, Sol (main square and where I stayed), the Temple of Debod, San Miguel market, Casa de Campo park (and the awesome gondola ride), El Retiro park, the Royal Palace, and the Real Madrid Stadium (my personal favorite, despite not knowing anything about the team). We also stopped into many cafes for snacks, bathroom breaks, rain avoidance, and FREE WIFI (get your game together Istanbul).
Leaving town and experiencing somewhere new gives you a chance to sample the local flavors as well- and what Spanish food I had did not disappoint. My first night I had Paella, a ham-on-bread thing, an egg-and-potato thing, and a fried-something-thing. Later I sampled another egg-and-potato-thing as well. Desserts included ice cream and chocolate covered churros- which were extremely cheap and really delicious (especially at midnight after eight hours of traveling). We also stopped into a Thai place (and I finally got my Asian food fix), a Mexican restaurant, an Italian café, and a Greek market- so there was a good sample of some international dishes. I mostly ate pork because I’m not getting that for another two weeks or so.
I definitely need to mention the amount of green space Madrid offers. Most streets are lined with trees, and the city has numerous parks (including a massive one to the west of the city center). Give the fact that Istanbul offers very little in the way of nature, my brain was on environmental overload the entire weekend- and I was loving it. Unfortunately, it was threatening to rain while we were in Casa de Campo, otherwise I was ready for a five-hour nature walk (instead we lasted about ten minutes). The air was clean and refreshing- and helped to lessen the cough I developed this past month.
Lastly, shout out to Rohan for being the best roommate/tour guide ever (enjoy the Turkish Delight!) and to all the people I accidentally spoke Turkish to while my mind was trying to figure out which language to speak.